Review: 'Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.' Vols 1-2

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1: War of the Monsters

DC Comics, $14.99, color, 160 pages

Reprinting Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-7

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Alberto Ponticelli

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 2: Secrets of the Dead

DC Comics, $16.99, color, 224 pages

Reprinting Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #0, 8-16

Writers: Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt

Artist: Alberto Ponticelli

As I read these two trade paperbacks, I kept wondering who the target audience was. I knew, though, that it wasn't me.

I think this book was supposed to be madcap fun with over-the-top monsters fighting each other in bizarre ways. For one thing, the complete lack of character development would indicate we're not to take it too seriously. For another, the opposing monsters (our heroes are monsters too) kept getting physically larger and larger.

For those not familiar with the premise, Frankenstein's monster (now just called Frankenstein, or Frank) is still alive (well, technically, undead) and an agent of the secret government organization S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Initiative), which fights things that go bump in the night. In addition to Frank, we meet Father Time (an immortal who has a different body every 100 years or so, this time a little girl in pigtails), Lady Frankenstein (also created by Dr. Frankenstein, Frankie's estranged ex-wife, has four arms), a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy and a lady Creature from the Black Lagoon (collectively the Creature Commandos), Ray Palmer (not The Atom, at least not yet, sent by the government to provide shrinking tech and keep an eye on the government's money), all of whom fly around in an HQ the size and shape of a marble (thanks, Dr. Palmer).

We learn most of this thanks to the computer, which every time someone asks a question the computer answers it, in extremely obvious exposition. That got irritating pretty quickly, but thankfully it was dropped when Kindt picked up the writing chores from Lemire.

This could be good fun, but I didn't find it to be so. It was a little too serious to be fun, and Father Time is a really unlikeable character that I can't believe anyone would work for for a week, much less 200 years. Plus, Frankenstein crossed over with other series on occasion (OMAC, Swamp Thing and Animal Man), but only the Frankenstein issues are reprinted here, giving us half a story. It's much like listening to a song recorded in stereo with only one speaker working -- you can imagine the parts that are missing, but you don't really hear them. And one issue ends at, literally, the end of the world -- but next issue everything is fine, because the world was saved in Swamp Thing or someplace. That's a bit, ah, jarring, to say the least.

But the part that really hurt for me was the art. I don't know anything about Alberto Ponticelli, but everything in his art had exactly the same texture. And that made it hard to figure out what was going on. I mean, when you can't distinguish between a monster's tentacle and a victim's face, it's difficult to follow the story. The only way I could figure out most action scenes is when creatures were different colors, but even there the book didn't cooperate, as the colorist seemed to prefer a sort of brownish-green for everything.

And, of course, when everything looks to be made of the same sort of mottled clay, the idea that humans and monsters are much different gets lost too, which means that Frankenstein's whole tragic-flaw thing is rendered moot as well. In a world where nobody is pretty, how can you really call Frankenstein ugly?

Given the superficiality and nonsense of Frankenstein, I thought "maybe this book is for kids." But given that there is a lot of death and horror (well horribleness) and general bleakness, I thought "maybe this is for horror fans, or other adult genre fans." I've read positive things from Legionnaires on this site, so clearly someone out there enjoyed it.

Sadly, though, I am not one of those someones. I'm not at all sorry that this book was canceled.

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I a big fan of comic book incarnations of Frankenstein’s monster; I even like to pretend that they all fit into the same continuity, somehow. Having said that, I nevertheless decided to give this series a pass, initially. More recently, though, I acquired the entire series via trade with someone else on the board. Here’s what I had to say about it back in February when it was still fresh in my mind:

“I read this entire series over the weekend. (Thanks, Bob!) I enjoyed it less than I hoped to, but just about as much as I expected to. (Hey, if I’d’ve expected to like it I would have bought it in the first place.) It wasn’t bad, but it’s nothing I hadn’t seen done before (and, IMHO, done better) in Swamp Thing, Animal Man and Doom Patrol. In DC’s New 52, Swamp Thing is the counterpoint to Animal Man, and as I see it, FA of S was the counterpoint to OMAC. When OMAC was cancelled, Frankenstein lost its counterpoint. (Besides, I preferred OMAC, anyway.)

“I enjoyed reading the series more in a single sitting than I think I would have moth-to-month. One running joke I did appreciate (not mentioned in the discussion so far) was that they had an footnoted acronym for everything! I wish I would have kept track of them all. My absolute favorite footnote was a veiled reference to a previous adventure, and when one followed the asterisk to the bottom of the page, it read “Classified.” Heh.

“Ultimately I think the title failed to live up to its enormous potential.”

I'm looking forward to PS Artbooks' comprehensive reprint of Dick Briefer's Frankenstein, as well as ongoing issues of Berni Wrightson's Frankenstein Alive, Alive!

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